Ariana Amini ’95 followed in an older sister’s footsteps when she attended UC Davis, eventually going on to study writing for children. Now, with her sister Christina Amini, she’s published a children’s book about a father who tells his six daughters stories of his childhood in Iran.
Both sisters recently spoke with UC Davis Magazine about how the story in Baba’s Gift (Little Bigfoot, 2023) is based on their own father, Fari Amini, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at UC San Francisco when he died in 2004. “He was a person who changed lives, saved lives, helped people with their marriages, taught people — and he was a great dad,” Ariana Amini said.
Baba’s Gift is the culmination of many years of collaboration and was released last week, for children ages 4 to 8. Here, the book’s authors talk about working together, learning from their father and what’s next.
This book is a love letter to your dad and documents some of his life story. Why did you opt to do it as a children’s book?
Ariana Amini: I have a background in writing for children and when my dad was alive and I was pregnant with my son, I wanted to interview my dad about his life. I would meet with him each week over cups of tea and talk to him about his life. Six months after my son was born, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I couldn’t imagine that my son was going to grow up not knowing my dad and I felt an urgency to hold on to his story and to write about it as a picture book for my son and other grandchildren. I began a writing workshop where I completed a draft of the story and then shared it with Christina. Because I love to share everything with Christina, and she’s a great writer, editor. She added her details and memories, and it emerged into a collaboration.
Christina Amini: Ariana started writing this, and we continued working together. And this was years ago – before I had children. We pitched it a couple places, but it was also about the importance of writing this story because our dad had so much courage and heart and impact as a father, doctor and human in the world. We wanted to share his story.
What was the collaboration process like?
CA: It’s just a joy to work with Ariana. She is really thoughtful and sensitive and really likes to go over things. Maybe my style is faster and get the job done. But there is a really nice complementary aspect to it. We wrote a first draft basically many years ago, like 2004, and revisiting it in 2019 what was really fun was trying a few different ways of telling the story. That was fun and playful. We’d meet at coffee shops and sit down together and work on this.
AA: It was just a great way to collaborate and share our memories and love of our dad together. I’ve always loved working with Christina. Even when we were young, I used to write plays and star her and direct her in them.
Ariana, you interviewed your father about his life. What did you learn from that?
AA: In the interviews I wanted to capture him, and I felt that it was really important to know his story. So I asked him about his childhood in Iran, and he would talk about moonlit walks he would take with his family after dinner or lying outside on summer nights and listening to relatives. Our conversations weren’t restricted. If I hadn’t done these interviews, I would not have learned so much about my dad and now I have his voice as well so I can listen to the interviews and hear his voice. And, as he was a psychiatrist, he always listened to others. Any time with my dad, you just felt completely heard. It was nice to be able to listen to him. And he got to express his voice and his story. There was this joy in doing whatever it takes for your kids, and that really came through.
CA: The book also includes the struggle of being an immigrant and also finding belonging. What you carry with you. The illustrator [Elaheh Taherian] is from Iran, and she came to the U.S. when she was 30. It was important to us that we had an Iranian illustrator, but she could really deeply understand that feeling of “where is my home?”
Any more books in your future?
AA: I mean, I think our mom is pretty incredible, too!